The large black ants had made a path through the grass, across a stretch of sand, over a pile of rubble and through the gap in an ancient wall. A little beyond the wall was a hole which was their home. There was an extraordinary coming and going on that path, an incessant bustle in both directions. Each ant would hesitate a second as it went by another; their heads would touch, and on they would go again. There must have been thousands of them. Only when the sun was directly overhead was that path deserted, and then all activity would be centred around their nest near the wall; they were excavating, each ant bringing out a grain of sand, a pebble or a bit of earth. When you gently knocked on the ground nearby, there was a general scramble. They would pour out of the hole, looking for the aggressor; but soon they would settle down and resume their work. As soon as the sun was on its westerly course and the evening breeze blew pleasantly cool from the mountains, they would march out again on their path, populating the silent world of the grass, the sand and the rubble. They went along that path for quite a distance, hunting, and they would find so many things: the leg of a grasshopper, a dead frog, the remains of a bird, a half-eaten lizard or some grain. Everything was attacked with fury; what couldn’t be carried away was eaten on the spot, or taken home in pieces. Only rain stopped their constant activity, and with the last drops they were out again. If you put your finger on their path, they would feel all around the tip, and a few would climb up it, only to come down again.
The ancient wall had a life of its own. Near the top there were holes in which bright green parrots, with curving red beaks, had made their nests. They were a shy lot, and didn’t like you to come too near. Screeching and clinging to the crumbling red bricks, they would wait to see what you were going to do. If you didn’t come any nearer, they would wriggle into the holes, leaving only their pale green tail feathers sticking out; there would then be another wriggle, the feathers would disappear, and their red beaks and shapely green heads would be showing. They were settling down for the night.
The wall enclosed an ancient tomb whose dome, catching the last rays of the setting sun, glowed as if someone had turned on a light from within. The whole structure was well-built and splendidly proportioned; it had not a line that could jar you, and it stood out against the evening sky, seemingly freed from the earth. All things were intensely alive, and all things – the ancient tomb, the crumbling red bricks, the green parrots, the busy ants, the whistle of a distant train, the silence and the stars – were merged into the totality of life. It was a benediction.
Although it was late, they had wanted to come, so we all went into the room. Lanterns had to be lit, and in the hurry one was broken, but the remaining two gave enough light for us to see each other as we sat in a circle on the floor. One of those who had come was a clerk in some office; he was small and nervous, and his hands were never still. Another must have had a little more money, for he owned a shop and had the air of a man who was making his way in the world. Heavily built and rather fat, he was inclined to easy laughter, but was now serious. The third visitor was an old man, and being retired, he explained, he had more time to study the Scriptures and perform puja, a religious ceremony. The fourth was an artist with long hair, who watched with a steady eye every movement, every gesture we made; he wasn’t going to miss anything. We were all silent for a while. Through the open window one or two stars could be seen, and the strong perfume of jasmine came into the room.
‘I would like to sit quietly like this for a longer period,’ said the merchant. ‘It’s a blessing to feel this quality of silence, it has a healing effect; but I don’t want to waste time explaining my immediate feelings, and I suppose I had better get on with what I came to talk about. I have had a very strenuous life, more so than most people; and while I am not by any means a rich man, I am now comfortably well off. I have always tried to lead a religious life. I haven’t been too covetous, I have been charitable, and I haven’t deceived others unnecessarily; but when you are in business, you have sometimes to avoid telling the exact truth. I could have made a great deal more money, but I denied myself that pleasure. I amuse myself in simple ways but on the whole I have led a serious life; it could have been better, but it really hasn’t been bad. I am married, and have two children. Briefly, sir, that’s my personal history. I have read some of your books and attended your discourses, and I have come here to be instructed in how to lead a more deeply religious life. But I must let the other gentlemen talk.’
‘My work is a rather tiresome routine, but I am not qualified for any other job,’ said the clerk. ‘My own needs are few, and I am not married; but I have to support my parents, and I am also helping my younger brother through college. I am not at all religious in the orthodox sense, but the religious life appeals to me very strongly. I am often tempted to give up everything and become a sannyasi, but a sense of responsibility to my parents and my brother makes me hesitate. I have meditated every day for many years, and since hearing your explanation of what real meditation is, I have tried to follow it; but it’s very difficult, at least for me, and I can’t seem to get into the way of it. Also, my position as a clerk, which requires me to work all day long at something in which I have not the slightest interest, is hardly conducive to higher thought. But I deeply crave to find the truth, if it’s ever possible for me to do so, and while I am young I want to set a right course for the rest of my life; so here I am.’
‘For my part,’ said the old man, ‘I am fairly familiar with the Scriptures, and since retiring as a government official several years ago, my time is my own. I have no responsibilities; all my children are grown up and married, so I am free to meditate, to read, and to talk of serious things. I have always been interested in the religious life. From time to time I have listened attentively to one or other of the various teachers, but I have never been satisfied. In some cases their teachings are utterly childish, while others are dogmatic, orthodox and merely explanatory. I have recently been attending some of your talks and discussions. I follow a great deal of what you say, but there are certain points with which I cannot agree – or rather, which I don’t understand. Agreement, as you have explained, can exist with regard to opinions, conclusions, ideas, but there can be no ‘agreement’ with regard to truth; either one sees it, or one does not. Specifically, I would like further clarification on the ending of thought.’
‘I am an artist, but not yet a very good one,’ said the man with the long hair. ‘I hope one day to go to Europe to study art; here we have mediocre teachers. To me, beauty in any form is an expression of reality; it’s an aspect of the divine. Before I start to paint I meditate, like the ancients, on the deeper beauty of life. I try to drink at the spring of all beauty, to catch a glimpse of the sublime, and only then do I begin my day’s painting. Sometimes it comes through, but more often it doesn’t; however hard I try, nothing seems to happen, and whole days, even weeks, are wasted. I have also tried fasting, along with various exercises, both physical and intellectual, hoping to awaken the creative feeling; but all to no avail. Everything else is secondary to that feeling, without which one cannot be a true artist, and I will go to the ends of the earth to find it. That is why I have come here.’
All of us sat quietly for a time, each with his own thoughts. Are your several problems different, or are they similar, though they may appear to be different? Is it not possible that there is one basic issue underlying them all? ‘I am not sure that my problem is in any way related to that of the artist,’ said the merchant. ‘He is after inspiration, the creative feeling, but I want to lead a more deeply spiritual life.’ ‘That’s precisely what I want to do too,’ replied the artist, ‘only I have expressed it differently.’
We like to think that our particular problem is exclusive, that our sorrow is entirely different from that of others; we want to remain separate at all costs. But sorrow is sorrow, whether it is yours or mine. If we don’t understand this, we cannot proceed; we shall feel cheated, disappointed, frustrated. Surely, all of us here are after the same thing; the problem of each is essentially the problem of all. If we really feel the truth of this, then we have already gone a long way in our understanding, and we can inquire together; we can help each other, listen to and learn from each other. Then the authority of a teacher has no meaning, it becomes silly. Your problem is the problem of another; your sorrow is the sorrow of another. Love is not exclusive. If this is clear, sirs, let us proceed.
‘I think we all now see that our problems are not unrelated,’ replied the old man, and the others nodded in approval. Then what is our common problem? please don’t answer immediately, but let us consider. Is it not, sirs, that there must be a fundamental transformation in oneself? Without this transformation, inspiration is always transitory, and there is a constant struggle to recapture it; without this transformation, any effort to lead a spiritual life can only be very superficial, a matter of rituals, of the bell and the book; without this transformation, meditation becomes a means of escape, a form of self-hypnosis.
‘That is so,’ said the old man. ‘Without a deep inward change, all effort to be religious or spiritual is a mere scratching on the surface.’ ‘I am entirely one with you, sir,’ added the man from the office. ‘I do feel that there must be a fundamental change in me, otherwise I shall go on like this for the rest of my life, groping, asking and doubting. But how is one to bring about this change?’ ‘I also can see that there must be an explosive change within myself if that which I am groping after is to come into being,’ said the artist. ‘A radical transformation in oneself is obviously essential. But, as that gentleman has already asked, how is such a change to be brought about?’
Let us give our minds and hearts to the discovery of the manner of its happening. What is important, surely, is to feel the urgent necessity of changing fundamentally, and not merely be persuaded by the words of another that you ought to change. An exciting description may stimulate you to feel that you must change, but such a feeling is very superficial, and it will pass away when the stimulant is gone. But if you yourself see the importance of change, if you feel, without any form of compulsion, without any motivation or influence that radical transformation is essential, then this very feeling is the action of transformation.
‘But how is one to have this feeling?’ asked the merchant. What do you mean by the word ‘how’? ‘Since I have not got this feeling for change, how can I cultivate it?’
Can you cultivate this feeling? Must it not arise spontaneously from your own direct perception of the utter necessity for a radical transformation? The feeling creates its own means of action. By logical reasoning you may come to the conclusion that a fundamental change is necessary, but such intellectual or verbal comprehension does not bring about the action of change.
‘Why not?’ asked the old man. Is not intellectual or verbal comprehension a superficial response? You hear, you reason, but your whole being does not enter into it. Your surface mind may agree that a change is necessary, but the totality of your mind is not giving its complete attention; it’s divided in itself. ‘Do you mean, sir, that the action of change takes place only when there’s total attention?’ asked the artist. Let’s consider it. One part of the mind is convinced that this fundamental change is necessary, but the rest of the mind is unconcerned; it may be in abeyance, or asleep, or actively opposed to such a change. When this happens, there’s a contradiction within the mind, one part wanting change, and the other being indifferent or opposed to change. The resulting conflict, in which that part of the mind which wants change is trying to overcome the recalcitrant part, is called discipline, sublimation, suppression; it is also called following the ideal. An attempt is being made to build a bridge over the gap of self-contradiction. There is the ideal, the intellectual or verbal comprehension that there must be a fundamental transformation and the vague but actual feeling of not wanting to be bothered, the desire to let things go on as they are the fear of change, of insecurity. So there’s a division in the mind; and the pursuit of the ideal is an attempt to bring together the two contradictory parts, which is an impossibility. We pursue the ideal because it doesn’t demand immediate action; the ideal is an accepted and respected postponement.
‘Then is trying to change oneself always a form of postponement?’ asked the man from the office. Isn’t it? Haven’t you noticed that when you say, ‘I will try to change,’ you have no intention of changing at all? You either change, or you don’t; trying to change has actually very little significance. pursuing the ideal, attempting to change, compelling the two contradictory parts of the mind to come together by the action of the will, practising a method or a discipline to achieve such a unification, and so on – all this is useless and wasteful effort which actually prevents any fundamental transformation of the centre, the self, the ego.
‘I think I understand what you are conveying,’ said the artist. ‘We are playing around with the idea of change, but never changing. Change requires drastic, unified action.’ Yes; and unified or integrated action cannot take place as long as there’s a conflict between opposing parts of the mind. ‘I see that, I really do!’ exclaimed the man from the office. ‘No amount of idealism, of logical reasoning, no convictions or conclusions, can bring about the change we are talking about. But then what will?’
Are you not, by that very question, preventing yourself from discovering the action of change? We are so eager for results that we do not pause between what we have just discovered to be true or false, and the uncovering of another fact. We hasten forward without fully understanding what we have already found. We have seen that reasoning and logical conclusions will not bring about this change, this fundamental transformation of the centre. But before we ask ourselves what factor will bring it about, we must be fully aware of the tricks that the mind uses to convince itself that change is gradual and must be effected through the pursuit of ideals, and so on. Having seen the truth or the falseness of that whole process, we can proceed to ask ourselves what is the factor necessary for this radical change.
Now, what is it that makes you move, act? ‘Any strong feeling. Intense anger makes me act; I may afterwards regret it, but the feeling explodes into action.’ That is, your whole being is in it; you forget or disregard danger, you are lost to your own safety, security. The very feeling is action; there is no gap between the feeling and the act. The gap is created by the so-called reasoning process, a weighing of the pros and the cons according to one’s convictions, prejudices, fears, and so on. Action is then political, it is stripped of spontaneity, of all humanity. The men who are seeking power, whether for themselves, their group or their country, act in this manner, and such action only breeds further misery and confusion.
‘Actually,’ went on the man from the office, ‘even a strong feeling for fundamental change is soon erased by self-protective reasoning, by thinking what would happen if such a change took place in one, and so on.’ The feeling is then hedged about by ideas, by words, is it not? There is a contradictory reaction, born of the desire not to be disturbed. If that is the case, then continue in your old way; don’t deceive yourself by following the ideal, by saying that you are trying to change, and all the rest of it. Be simple with the fact that you don’t want to change. The realization of this truth is in itself sufficient.
‘But I do want to change.’ Then change; but don’t talk unfeelingly about the necessity of changing. It has no meaning. ‘At my age,’ said the old man, ‘I have nothing to lose in the outward sense; but to give up the old ideas and conclusions is quite another matter. I now see at least one thing: that there can be no fundamental change without an awakening of the feeling for it. Reasoning is necessary, but it’s not the instrument of action. To know is not necessarily to act.’
But the action of feeling is also the action of knowing, the two are not separate; they are separate only when reason, knowledge, conclusion or belief induces action. ‘I am beginning to see this very clearly, and my knowledge of the Scriptures, as a basis for action, is already losing its grip on my mind.’ Action based on authority is no action at all; it is mere imitation, repetition. ‘And most of us are caught in that process. But one can break away from it. I have understood a great deal this evening.’
‘So have I,’ said the artist. ‘To me, this discussion has been highly stimulating, and I don’t think the stimulation will admit of any reaction. I have seen something very clearly, and I am going to pursue it, not knowing where it will lead.’ ‘My life has been respectable,’ said the merchant, ‘and respectability is not conducive to change, especially of the fundamental kind we have been talking about. I have cultivated very earnestly the idealistic desire to change, and to lead a more genuinely religious life; but I now see that meditation upon life and the ways of change is far more essential.’
‘May I add yet another word?’ asked the old man. ‘Meditation is not upon life; it is itself the way of life.’